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The Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Thanked President Trump For Donating His Salary. A Day Later He’s Being Tapped To Lead The VA Permanently

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Robert Wilkie is sworn in as a Deputy Defense Secretary (Pentagon photo)

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2018 — How do you get President Donald Trump to nominate you to lead the government’s second-largest bureaucracy? It helps to tell reporters nice things about him.

Less than 24 hours after he appeared in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room to thank the president for donating his second-quarter salary to the Department of Veterans Affairs, President Trump surprised Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Robert Wilkie by revealing his intention to nominate him as the 10th person to lead the department since it became a cabinet-level agency.

As Wilkie sat unaware in the audience during a White House event on prison reform, Trump began reading prepared remarks, including a list of cabinet officials.

“Joining us today are several members of my Cabinet who are working diligently on this issue: Attorney General Sessions, Secretary Zinke, Secretary Acosta, Secretary Perry, Secretary DeVos, and Acting Secretary Wilkie, who, by the way, has done an incredible job at the VA,” Trump said.

But while what came out of the president’s mouth next may not have been a surprise to journalists and other Trump-watchers who’ve gotten used to Trump’s habit of announcing decisions and personnel changes any time a camera is pointed at him, it was, at least according to the president, a surprise to Wilkie.

“I’ll be informing him in a little while — he doesn’t know this yet — that we’re going to be putting his name up for nomination to be Secretary of the Veterans Administration.”

Aware of what he’d just done, Trump apologized for ruining the surprise but said he’d meet with Wilkie later before rattling off a list of his administration’s VA-related accomplishments.

“We’re very close to getting Choice approved,” Trump said, referring to the VA Mission Act, which is awaiting Senate approval after passing the House earlier this week, “and we had just approved [the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act] which, for almost 40 years, they could not get approved.”

A Pentagon insider who served in the George W. Bush administration, Wilkie’s official biography notes he is the son of a cavalry officer and grew up at Fort Bragg.

He is also the second person the president has nominated to lead the VA following a performance before the White House press corps.

Trump previously tapped the head of the White House Medical Unit, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, to take over the Veterans Affairs department after the March 31 departure of Dr. David Shulkin, the sole cabinet-level holdover from the Obama administration and only Trump cabinet official to be unanimously confirmed by the Senate.

The White House said Shulkin resigned amid controversy over a July 2017 trip to Europe on which he brought his wife, though he later said he’d been fired for resisting Trump’s plans to privatize the department, which is the largest integrated health care system in the United States.

Trump’s decision to pick Jackson, then his personal physician, despite his having never managed anything larger than the 40-person White House unit which provides care to the president, vice president, their families, and occasionally staff or anyone else at the White House in need of medical attention, came three months after Jackson briefed reporters on results of the president’s annual medical examination.

Jackson’s performance raised some eyebrows after he told reporters that Trump, who does not exercise and is a frequent consumer of fast food, “might live to be 200 years old.” He attributed Trump’s health, which he called “excellent,” to the president’s “great genes.”

 

As a non-physician, Wilkie gave reporters no insight into Trump’s health or genetics, but like Jackson, he had only good things to say about the president when he accompanied White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to the briefing room.

Wilkie, who appeared in his capacity as Acting VA Secretary, spoke to reporters after Sanders revealed that Trump, who has pledged to donate his $400,000 salary to charity, would be donating the prior three months of earnings to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

 “I want to thank you for President Trump’s generosity,” he told Sanders before turning to the assembled press before lavishing praise on the president.

“President Trump understands the critical role of caregivers in meeting the essential needs of America’s veterans,” Wilkie said, later adding:  “I am deeply grateful to President Trump for providing me the opportunity to serve America’s veterans and for his generosity in supporting them.”

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Andrew Feinberg covers the White House, Capitol Hill, and anywhere else news happens for BeltwayBreakfast.com and BroadbandBreakfast.com. He has reported on policy and politics in the nation's capital since 2007, and his writing has appeared in publications like The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Silicon Angle, and Washington Business Journal. He has also appeared on both daytime and prime radio and television news programs on NPR, Sirius-XM, CNN, MSNBC, ABC (Australia), Al Jazeera, NBC Digital, Voice of America, TV Rain (Russia) and CBS News. Andrew wishes he could say he lives in Washington, DC with his dog, but unfortunately, he lives in a no-dogs building in suburban Maryland.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Russian Lies

Trump Still Wants Putin Back In G-7, Lies Repeatedly About Why Russia Was Suspended

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WASHINGTON, August 20, 2019 — President Trump on Tuesday said he’d support allowing the G-7 to become the G-8 again by allowing Russia to rejoin the annual summit held by the leaders of the world’s seven largest advanced economies.

Speaking in the Oval Office alongside Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, Trump repeatedly lied about how long Russia had been participating in the annual summit before its 2014 suspension from what had been the Group of Eight, as well as the reasons for the suspension.

“So it was the G8 for a long time, and now it’s the G7, and a lot of the time, we talk about Russia,” said Trump, who then suggested that it “would be much more appropriate to have Russia in” and return to the G-8 format.

“It should be the G-8 because a lot of the things we talk about have to do with Russia,” he said. “So I could certainly see it being the G8 again, and if somebody would make that motion, I would certainly be disposed to think about it very favorable.”

Trump also falsely attributed Russia’s non-participation to nothing more than spite on the part of his predecessor, rather than a consequence of Russia illegally invading and occupying part of Ukraine.

“I guess President Obama, because Putin outsmarted him, President Obama thought it wasn’t a good thing to have Russia in. So he wanted Russia out,” he said.

None of the claims Trump made about Russia and the G-8 have any basis in reality.

Although he claimed that Russia had participated “for a long time,” the G-7 summit existed for more than two decades before Russia first became involved.

The first edition of what would become an annual affair took place in 1975, when the leaders of the world’s top six International Monetary Fund-ranked industrialized economies — France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States — met in France.

Canada joined what had been known as the Group of 6 a year later, after which the annual meeting would be known as the Group of 7, or G-7, for the next 19 years.

Russia’s involvement dates back to 1994, when Russian officials met with G-7 leaders at a series of separate meetings after that year’s summit had concluded.

Boris Yeltsin, then President of the post-Soviet Russian Federation, attended the next three meetings as a guest, and in 1998, Russia became a full member of would then be known as the Group of Eight. The invitation was extended in spite of that country’s comparatively insignificant position among the world’s industrialized economies as a way to encourage Yeltsin’s efforts to transition Russia away from the Soviet model to a market economy.

Trump’s claim that Russia’s suspension was initiated by then-President Barack Obama is also false.

The suspension began in March 2014, a month after Russian forces invaded Ukraine and annexed the Crimean Peninsula. As a result of the invasion, which has been widely condemned by the international community, the leaders of what had been the Group of Seven canceled plans to attend that year’s G-8 summit — which Putin had been set to host.

While the assertion that subjects having to do with Russia are routinely discussed at the G-7 level is correct, those discussions most often concern efforts by the G-7 nations — six of which are NATO members — to counter Russian aggression.

Although the international community holds Putin responsible for Russia’s occupation of its neighbor, Trump has previously lied about his culpability and attempted to place the blame on Obama to justify allowing Russia to rejoin the G-8.

During a question-and-answer session with reporters last June, Trump said Putin “should be in the G8” and repeatedly accused Obama of having “lost Crimea.”

“President Obama lost Crimea because President Putin didn’t respect President Obama, didn’t respect our country, and didn’t respect Ukraine,” he said.

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White House Deputy Press Secretary Rejects Linkage Between Donald Trump and Anti-Hispanic El Paso Killer

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Screenshot of Hogan Gidley speaking on August 6, 2019, via C-SPAN

WASHINGTON, August 6, 2019 — White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley on Tuesday rejected the idea that President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric played any role in pushing a Texas man to drive to an El Paso Wal-Mart and open fire on the mostly-Latino shoppers inside.

“There are plenty of people in this country who commit acts of evil in the names of politicians, of celebrities and all types of things,” Gidley said while speaking to reporters outside the West Wing.

The alleged gunman, 21-year-old Patrick Crucius, posted a manifesto online before he allegedly shot and killed 22 people on Saturday.

In it, he claimed to be responding to the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” He also cited the March 15, massacre of two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, as an inspiration for his action.

The incident renewed questions over President Trump’s frequent use of anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric which have persisted since he opened his 2016 presidential campaign by attacking Mexican immigrants as “rapists.”

His attacks on immigrants were also featured prominently in the run up to the 2018 midterm elections, during which his campaign rally stump speech frequently included descriptions of “caravans” of migrants, which he warned would be allowed to bring diseases into the country of Democrats were allowed to take control of Congress.

Democrats, civil rights activists, and some Republicans have condemned Trump’s remarks as racist, and many observers have drawn parallels between his rhetoric and the views expressed in Crucius’ manifesto.

Other violent killers have invoked rhetoric from Donald Trump

Crucius is not the first violent actor to invoke Trump’s rhetoric.

Last fall, federal agents arrested so-called “MAGA Bomber” Cesar Sayoc after he sent pipe bombs to a long list of prominent Democrats and journalists.

In court documents, Sayoc’s attorneys said their client had fallen victim to the cult-like atmosphere of Trump’s campaign rallies and a steady diet of Fox News and pro-Trump internet conspiracy theories.

But Gidley denied there was any connection between Trump’s rhetoric and those violent actions, and suggested any attempt to link them was beyond the pale.

“It’s not the politician’s fault when someone acts out their evil intention,” he said before rattling off list of Democratic politicians whom the administration “would never blame” for various attacks allegedly carried out by their supporters.

“We would…never blame Barack Obama for the police shootings in Dallas,” Gidley added. “And quite frankly, it’s ridiculous to make those connect in some way. You have to blame the people here who pulled the trigger.”

But other Republicans did, in fact, blame Obama for the 2016 sniper attack that killed five police officers in Dallas, Texas.

During an appearance on Fox News, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., blamed the shooting on “the demonization strategies that the Democratic Party uses on a regular basis.”

“I personally believe that what we saw in Dallas where a gunman shot at and killed law enforcement officers and Caucasians simply because they were law enforcement officers and Caucasians is in part because the Democratic Party strategy of demonizing the law enforcement community on the one hand, and also engaging in a strategy of racial division, where they try to get block votes from minority groups by trying to portray Caucasians as the enemy,” Brooks said.

Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, also blamed then-President Obama for the shootings at the time.

“The spread of misinformation and constant instigation by prominent leaders, including our president, have contributed to the modern-day hostility we are witnessing between the police and those they serve,” he said.

Trump, on the other hand, accused the press of fomenting violence in the wake of last year’s massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

During a question-and-answer session with reporters on the South Lawn last November, a reporter asked him about a poll which found that over half of Americans said he was encouraging political violence.

“You’re creating violence by your questions, you know,” Trump said. “And also, a lot of the reporters are creating violence by not writing the truth. The fake news is creating violence.”

“I’ll tell you what, if the media would write correctly, and write accurately, and write fairly, you would have a lot less violence in the country,” he added.

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Dayton Police Chief Says ‘It Would Be Irresponsible’ To Speculate On Mass Shooter’s Motive; Conway Speculates Anyway

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WASHINGTON, August 6, 2019 — Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday ignored warnings from law enforcement against suggesting a motive for the perpetrator of the recent mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio by claiming without evidence that he was motivated by “leftism and sympathy for antifa.”

Dayton, Ohio Police Chief Richard Diehl said it would be “irresponsible” to suggest a motive for last weekend’s mass shooting, but Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway did so anyway.

During a press conference on Sunday, Dayton, Ohio Police Chief Richard Diehl cautioned reporters that his department “[did] not have sufficient information” to answer the question of why 24-year-old Connor Betts opened fire with at a popular bar with an AR-15 rifle, killing nine. 

“We are very, very early into this investigation. Any suggestion, at this time, of motive would be irresponsible,” Diehl said.

But as Conway spoke to reporters outside the West Wing on Tuesday, she apparently had no qualms about referencing media reports which indicated that social media accounts belonging to Betts had reflected an affinity for liberal causes, despite the fact that the same report stressed that investigators have not discovered any political motive on his part.

“The president will continue to speak about the Second Amendment and the difference between law abiding citizens…versus…people who are motivated by hate and bigotry and race, and I guess in the case of the Dayton, Ohio shooter…leftism and sympathy for antifa,” Conway said while speaking

Although Conway had no basis for asserting that Betts’ actions were politically motivated, her claims echoed similar statements made by conservative media figures with the aim of creating an equivalence between Betts’ actions and those of Patrick Crusius, the 21-year-old who shot and killed 22 people at an El Paso, Texas, Wal-Mart less than 24 hours before. 

But unlike Betts, Crusius’ motive has been clear from the start. According to a manifesto he purportedly posted online prior to the shooting, he was motivated to carry out the shooting as a response to what he called the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

Crusius’ use of the term “invasion” mirrors rhetoric President Trump has regularly used in speeches and at campaign-style rallies to describe Hispanic and Latino immigrants. 

Trump condemned Crusius’ actions in prepared remarks on Monday, during which he denounced “racism, bigotry, and white supremacy.”

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